Advice for practitioners and firms on service standards and complaints
This information is for practitioners and law firms. It is intended to support you to ensure that necessary changes to your service to deal with the current situation do not result in additional avoidable complaints, and to reassure you about how we will deal with any complaints which do arise.
We understand that you may be concerned about a potential increase in complaints due to the difficult circumstances we are all currently operating in. You may also experience challenges dealing with queries and complaints. For these reasons, we are offering guidance on how best to avoid and deal with complaints and provide reassurance about how we will deal with any complaints that come to us during this unprecedented time.
We understand that firms will be having to adapt their business practices to the new and ever changing situation, while trying to maintain a good quality service to their clients. We will take into account the global challenge presented by the Coronavirus in considering complaints and how these have been handled by practitioners. Many aspects of our decision-making involves consideration of what is reasonable, which is contextualised by many factors.
What you can do
The sorts of things that practitioners can do to manage client expectations and to protect themselves are:
- Publish a clear statement about your working arrangements on your website, on social media and by email/ letter to ensure existing and potential clients know how and when they can contact you.
- Review your terms of business letters – if there are any obstacles to delivering the service you have committed to, make sure you communicate this clearly to clients.
- Be open and honest with clients where there are delays or issues due to Coronavirus.
- If there are delays or changes in circumstances, keep clients updated – this may well prevent a complaint, or can be taken into account if a complaint does materialise. This might include who is doing the work, or how and when you might communicate with clients.
- Consider whether any updates are needed to your privacy notices due to changes in the way you are using or transmitting data.
- Be open and frank with the SLCC if there have been issues due to the Coronavirus, and what you have put in place to deal with them.
- Keep a log of any changes you make to your service and any communications you share or issue to clients.
What we will take into account
As long as specific changes have also been communicated clearly to clients, the SLCC understands that such changes may include:
- Delays in keeping clients updated (which may be justifiable if stemming from the Coronavirus and where reasonable business continuity planning is in place).
- Reduced / no contact by phone.
- Reduced / no access to solicitors in person.
- Changes to the frequency or method of communication, including using email when secure and appropriate.
- Changes to who will carry out the work.
- Protecting client confidentiality by restricting sensitive information to those who have access to secure IT.
- Deciding not to take on or complete work where you are unable to provide an adequate service.
- Lack of or change to the appointed Client Relations Manager and any resultant delays or failures to deal with complaints and/or the SLCC.
What we will do
We have reviewed our own processes and approach and we can confirm that we will be:
- Continuing to accept new complaints.
- Managing complaints within our system, trying as far as possible to maintain our usual service and target timeframes.
- Progressing cases as normal where we have digital files, and trying to find workable solutions for paper files or communications by mail.
- Notifying complainers where we are unable to respond within the time limits originally indicated to them.
- Allowing appropriate extra time for practitioners and complainers to respond to complaints, provide files and supporting evidence.
- Considering not contesting appeals which are made out of time due to the Coronavirus.
- Continuing to make awards of redress and apply the complaint levy as normal (see note below).
Awards of redress and application of the complaint levy
We recognise that some firms may have cash flow issues due the current situation. Where this is the case, the first priority should be redress for the client. If a firm is unable to pay the amount in full, we will consider options for delayed or scheduled payment on a case by case basis, taking into account the current circumstances. Once redress to the client has been paid, the firm should consider the complaint levy. Again, we will consider options on a case by cases basis. If the direction and levy are not paid within the 28 days specified, without agreed arrangements in place, our Compliance Department will be in touch with the firm to discuss matters.